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Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon 1750 TBi TI road test report

1750 TBi TI

Alfa Romeo has had a real mountain to climb in trying to sell its mid-sized family/executive model, the 159. First launched in 2005, the 159 has some pretty strong rivals in its class, most notably the triumvirate of the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Four years after its initial launch, though, Alfa has a new secret weapon: a 1,742cc turbocharged engine that will also be used on other Alfas in the coming years. Fitted in this estate version, it helps the 159 make a stronger case to buyers looking for an alternative to the usual German wagon.

Road Test Reports Says3 star rating
A front-facing image of the Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon

Image number 2 of the Alfa Romeo 159 SportwagonImage number 3 of the Alfa Romeo 159 SportwagonImage number 4 of the Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon

Performance Performance - 4 stars

This new 1750 TBi engine (it actually displaces 1,742cc, but the name comes from its late 60s Alfa forerunner, the Berliner) is equipped with a turbocharger, direct injection and variable valve timing to help it generate 197bhp at 5,000rpm and 236lb-ft of torque at just 1,400rpm. All this technology works hand-in-hand to produce a steady flow of power and torque from low down in the rev range. Squeeze the throttle and it’s all unleashed in a uniformly even manner until it hits peak power at 5,000rpm. This results in a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds, which is very respectable rather than outstanding. The other aspect of this engine that works in its favour is its refinement. Even when the dial heads towards the red line, there’s no hint of thrashiness, the sound retaining a characterful smoothness. Cruising at motorway speeds is especially a pleasure, as the gentle thrum never really permeates the cabin, even when a bit of overtaking is required.

Ride & Handling Ride & Handling - 3 stars

Alfas always used to have an agility and on-road character that made buyers want to drive them. While the company still retains that aura, especially among its fans (known as the Alfisti), the reality is that, in recent years, its cars have lacked the qualities that made it famous. The 159 Sportwagon is now getting on a bit in car years, so its chassis lacks a little compared to its German rivals, all of which are newer models. However, it doesn’t feel as old as it is: there’s an element of body roll, but it’s pretty well contained, and the steering is accurate and has a decent amount of feedback. The ride – especially when fitted with the lowered suspension and 19-inch wheels that our range-topping TI-trimmed car came with – does feel pretty harsh, especially when confronted with the post-snow potholes that peppered the roads when we were testing. Of course, if you want something less sporty, you can always go for a trim level that comes with smaller 18-inchers, but we found that the ride quality was perfectly acceptable to live with.

Build Quality & Reliability Build Quality & Reliability - 3 stars

Alfa has a rather unfortunate reputation when it comes to reliability, showing poorly in customer satisfaction surveys (the brand doesn’t even make an appearance in the JD Power surveys) and also having a bad record in after-sales service. Alfa has become something of a watchword for cars that are poorly finished and tend to break down rather too often. This never seems to have too much of an adverse effect on the hardcore Alfisti, however, who put up with the brand’s foibles as a price worth paying for attractive cars with their particular heritage. The 159 Sportwagon was one of the current model line-up that was originally launched back in the company’s dark days, so it still suffers a little. The cabin, for example, while having a stylish air, contains some plastics can’t match the quality of those used in some of its rivals – an important consideration at this level of the market.

Safety & Security Safety & Security - 5 stars

The Alfa 159 has been crash-tested by Euro NCAP and awarded the full five stars for safety, with five stars for adult occupant protection, four for child occupant protection and one for pedestrian impact protection. This result is due to the 159’s plentiful supply of active and passive safety equipment, including driver, passenger, front side, window and driver knee airbags (seven in total); front seatbelts with pre-tensioners, load limiters and an anti-whiplash system; Isofix attachments on rear seats; a Fire Prevention System (FPS); rear parking sensors; VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) Alfa Romeo’s version of ESP, which incorporates ABS anti-lock brakes, ASR (Anti Slip Regulation), EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution), plus Brake Assistant with Hill Holder. For security, there’s an electronic key with remote central locking and boot release, immobiliser and alarm system.

Space & Practicality Space & Practicality - 2 stars

Despite the 159 Sportwagon being an estate, there’s a remarkable lack of space inside, which is a real disappointment. The rear suffers from a lack of legroom: even with an average-sized front occupant, a same-sized adult won’t have enough room to sit in comfort. Headroom is also in short supply, so six-footers will find themselves head-butting the roof (especially when going over speed humps with the TI’s stiff suspension). Bootspace with the 60/40 split rear seats in place is just 445 litres, with a maximum of 1,235 litres available with the seats folded. This is quite a bit less than its rivals, with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate offering 485 and 1,500 litres in comparison. In its favour, though, the 159 does come fitted with a fair bit of kit, including climate control, electric windows all round, cruise control, heated seats, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, rain and light sensors, electric front seats and radio/CD player. One bugbear is the use of Microsoft Blue&Me connectivity in Fiat group cars (which includes Alfas): it annoying precludes the use of iPods of any type – which is nonsensical, as they’re the biggest-selling MP3 players on the market by a country mile.

Ownership & Value Ownership & Value - 3 stars

The 159 Sportwagon TBi TI costs £26,840 new, which is a competitive price compared to versions of the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class with similar equipment and performance. Indeed, if you’re looking for something different and want to save around £2,000-3000, the 159 would be very much in the frame. The official fuel consumption is a claimed 34.0mpg, but in real-world driving, we didn’t mange more than 24mpg, so it’s not going to be cheap to run, what with all those visits to the petrol station. CO2 emissions are also high, at 194g/km, so Band J road tax will cost a hefty £235 a year. Residuals aren’t particularly great (around 40% after three years), so the 159 will cost you right up to the point that you sell it.

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